Gareth-Michael Skarka has been in the RPG industry for quite some time. And so he knows lots of stuff. But sometimes, he drops the ball.
In a recent blog, Gareth predicts the upcoming death of the tabletop RPG industry. A startling claim. His evidence? The Dresden Files RPG sold 3,000 books in the 3rd quarter of 2010. "Back in my day," I can hear the old man voice creaking "3,000 copies was a solid initial order."
But what does this really prove? Not as much as Gareth thinks it does. It proves that the RPG industry works differently than it did back in the 90's.
Because in the 1990's, the only way to get an economical price on book printing was to buy a lot of them. Only printing one or two at a time was an insane proposition. You had to order in volume. At least 1,000. 3,000 isn't too far off. Thanks to print on demand technology, those low per-book prices can be had at a much smaller volume.
Also, once you printed up your 3,000 copies in the year 199x, the next step was to sell to a distributor. Once you had done that, your involvement with selling those books was essentially done. It was now up to the distributor to sell the product to retailers, who then sold it to the end-user.
But come the year 2000, we got the 3rd edition of D&D and the resulting d20 glut. Gareth calls it an "explosion", but really, it was a glut. Too many people were trying to hitch their wagon to the d20 brand, publishing their old D&D campaigns and modules and trying to make a million dollars. Some of them might have actually done it. But they did so at the expense of the distributors. Distributors and retailers wound up saddled with literally tons of stuff that nobody wanted as customers realized that the d20 System logo was not an assurance of quality.
Fast forward to now and you might find a distributor who'll buy 3,000 copies of your game, if you're lucky and have an established track record. They've learned their lesson on that one.
So today's RPG publisher is leaner and meaner than those of yore. Instead of printing 3,000 books that will probably still be sitting in a warehouse somewhere six months from now, they are able to print a few at a time, responding swiftly as demand increases and scaling back when it doesn't happen.
Nothing's going away. It's just changing.